By Joshua S Hill
My name is Josh, I’m 25 years old, and I like comics.
No, this isn’t some introduction to a “comics-anonymous” editorial, but rather an acceptance of something I’ve long ignored: Dick Grayson is not my Robin.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, considering how long I’ve been of the belief that Grayson was my Robin. But the reality is that Dick Grayson gave up the job of Robin the year I was born (how is that right?). The Robin I should have known is either Jason Todd or Tim Drake. But I didn’t start reading comics until the early 2000’s, and I used to watch Batman: The Animated Series a lot, so all I knew was Dick Grayson as Robin (we shall not speak of Chris O’Donnell, okay?).
I’m not going to talk much about the time between 1984 and 2009, as it’s not really important to what I’m trying to say. I’ve read a fair bit of the stuff from those years and garnered these thoughts: Jason Todd never got a fair shot; Dick Grayson as Nightwing is a brilliant character; Tim Drake was a really great Robin; and Barbara Gordon is a brilliant character.
It’s amazing, actually, how much time has passed, almost without our realizing it: some 26 years since Nightwing made his appearance, and 21 years since Tim Drake appeared as Robin and Barbara Gordon debuted as Oracle. A lot of people still consider Dick and Barbara the “feature couple” of the Bat-universe. They are Robin and Batgirl, the No. 2 and 3 of that close-knit Bat-family after Batman/Bruce Wayne. But so much time has passed, and I’m forced to ask the question, are they still that feature couple?
These questions have surfaced as I read two books: the third version of Batgirl, issues 1 to 9, featuring Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, and Red Robin, issues 1 to 12, featuring Tim Drake as Red Robin. For two issues the pair came together, there was mutual respect, hints at what they once had, and then they parted and got back to work. One of them is brother to Dick Grayson and the other is being mentored by Barbara Gordon. And this is what I’m saying: Whether they are doing it intentionally or it is happening in some amazing cosmic convergence, DC is creating the next generation of Dick and Barbara in the form of Tim Wayne (Drake) and Stephanie Brown.
I think for a long time the Bat-family has really been the DC family — the heart of the DC universe. I realize that the other major DC characters have their families; Superman has his, and the Speedsters would pack out a small motel when they have their reunion. But I sometimes feel as if those families are only there if a writer wants them, whereas the Bat-family is a real family, there whether you want it or not and doing its own thing regardless of anyone else.
So when a new “couple” begins to form in the DC Universe, I think it’s important. They don’t even need to be “together” to be this couple. There was always tension between Dick and Barbara, and their relationship has taken lots of twists and turns, but they haven’t always been an item. They’re not even together now, but you’d be hard pressed to suggest they’re not the relational heart of the Bat-family and, in my opinion, of the DC-family as a result.
So it’s only natural that a new younger couple emerges.
On top of these two relationships are other trends taking place within the Bat-family. Batman and Robin are now in a similar pattern to the beginning of Bruce and Dick’s relationship (minus the homicidal little Lord Fauntleroy character). Red Robin has emerged as the new Nightwing in his “I’m not Robin anymore” role as Red Robin (minus the flares). And there’s a new Batgirl receiving training from the old Batgirl who isn’t just comic relief or a “problem” for the others.
Tim has been growing into the “man on his own” status for a while now, being referred to by Dick as a brother and an equal, and finally getting the “how can I help?” from him at the end of Collision. Stephanie is also stepping out becoming less the character who ends up spoiling a mission or getting something wrong and more the trusted independent Bat that Barbara often was.
It’s as if the whole Bat-family has received a reboot without any of the clichéd “it was all a dream” sequences.
The reboot can’t just focus on two characters, because with the Bat-family it has always been about all of them. Dick couldn’t just strike out on his own without a new Robin taking his place. And how many female characters have they introduced into the Bat-universe over the years to try and ferment a replacement for Batgirl?
Now, with the death of Bruce Wayne forcing the issue the reboot seems to have taken root. And is working, allowing for a new Dick and Barbara to emerge out of the ashes. They’ll be the ones that end up with crossovers, that leave Gotham for a while to chase down a villain or strike it out on their own, and they are the ones that will end up in other teams. They’re the bright and cheery aspect of the darkest city in the DCU.